THUNDER BAY – The Canada/U.S. rivalry runs deep.
It’s a battle when the two countries are pitted against each other in just about any sport.
It’s true in hockey, it’s true in soccer and it’s most certainly true in baseball.
That latter rivalry will be put to the test over the next five days at Baseball Central, where the Canadian national women’s baseball team will take on the United States national women’s team in a five-game Friendship Series that kicks off on Thursday night.
The Canadian team will be playing with heavy hearts and an eye to the sky, remembering long-time teammate Amanda Asay, who was killed this past January in a skiing accident.
Team Canada donned No. 19 practice jerseys on Wednesday as they worked on hitting and fielding drills ahead of their first international competition in three years, prior to the pandemic.
Claire Eccles, an outfielder and pitcher with the team, said it hasn’t been an easy few months.
The B.C. native joined the national team eight years ago, and had never known a roster without Asay’s name front and centre.
“This is my first time on the field without (Amanda), because I’m from B.C. I was 16 when I was on the provincial team and the very first day she made a very strong presence. It’s definitely tough. I feel like we’re all playing for her. Of course we wish she was here. She was a massive, massive presence on both the provincial and national team,” Eccles said.
“There will be some of us who have to step up, but we can never replace her. She’ll always be with us.”
Team Canada manager Ashley Stephenson called Asay, who joined the national team in 2005, the best teammate she ever had.
“She was just an absolute competitor. She played multiple positions for us. She pitched and early in her career, caught. She could hit bombs, but was literally the type of player you wanted to go to battle with,” Stephenson said.
“So we wanted to make sure we represented her. We have a patch on our sleeve, so she’ll always be with us, but we thought it would be a nice touch if everyone of our warm-up shirts had 19 on the back, so when we did our in and out, we knew she was with us.”
Outfielder Emma Carr, who hails from Scarborough, Ont., agreed that Asay was a great teammate on and off the field.
“She was definitely someone I really, really looked up to always. That’s why we’re here. That’s why we’ve got 19 on our backs. We’re here to play for her. Our motto this year is we’ve always got 10 players on the field. We’re always going to have 10 because we’ve got her on our backs and on our arms. We’ve got one leg up because we’ve got 10,” Carr said.
Canada and the United States will play five games in the Friendship Series, with 7:30 p.m. starts on Thursday, Friday and Sunday, and 1 p.m. starts on Saturday and Monday.